Just Business.

The other day, I watched a video from a YouTube content creator who I follow off and on. He creates content for a very nerdy pastime of mine and in the scene he’s very well known and, I would say, respected.

The content he creates revolves around his sublime skill as a painter and he both shows off his work and teaches others how to apply the techniques he does. He’s also reasonably funny and likes metal, so all in all a pretty wholesome channel.

One of the major companies he paints product for recently invited him (and a heap of other content creators) out to their headquarters to be involved in a special event. He was also tasked with painting up some stuff for the event as part of his involvement which entailed no small amount of work.

Fast forward, he is at the event and enjoying everything and filming bits here and there and he made a mistake. He posted up some photos to his Instagram that included products that hadn’t been announced yet – a clear violation of his Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA). I cannot believe this was intentional and all parties accept this was an honest mistake, however he was politely escorted from the premises and sent home, his work removed from the event and his presence there largely papered over.

This is a brief rundown of the circumstances. His video was his experience and thoughts on the whole affair. You can view it here if you like.

He, and I, both thought that the consequences for his actions were on the one hand, quite understandable, but also heavy handed and outweighed the severity of what had occurred. I will admit to knowing nothing about the legal implications of signing an NDA though. This company has had massive problems with sources leaking information in recent times and many think this crackdown was perhaps a culmination of that and meant as a bit of an example. Who knows.

I decided to scroll the comments a bit as some other content creators who were there had posted comments as well. One really common theme in the comments stuck out, and made me sad. It went something like this: “Yeah, I understand it was a mistake and it sucks that it happened and I know it wasn’t malicious but it’s a business, that’s just how it goes.”

Why? Why is that just how it goes because it’s a business?

Why does being a business give you cover to act in morally ambiguous ways?

Why does being a business allow, or even necessitate, actions that viewed through a personal lens, seem wrong?

Why have we, as a society, accepted that it’s just business?

When the guiding light for decision making is profit, shareholder value and reducing costs the decisions that follow will always be subject to moral scrutiny as those outcomes would seem to rarely align neatly with what is best for the majority of people involved.

When you see executive bonuses in the millions and obscene salaries being paid to top CEO’s even while their companies lay off staff and declare bankruptcy, it shines a light on how much these business decisions are bad people decisions.

The video above has a great section from one of my all time favourite shows, Boston Legal. Alan Shore is an absolute icon for his incredibly powerful speeches and in this one he is defending his socially awkward friend who is passed over for a well deserved promotion because he doesn’t present as well as some others. Once again highlighting that a business decision isn’t necessarily the best people decision. He says it a lot better than I can though.

I’ll put another clip here. Boston Legal is starting to become a dated show but so many of the themes it highlights in each episode are still hugely relevant today – we seem to be mired in the same problems we were at the start of the century. Big Tobacco is a poster child for business decisions not being good people decisions.

I came to the realisation, and probably over simplification, awhile ago that in Australia, voting for either major party represented your priority for business decisions or people decisions. Generally. Nothing is that clear cut but it seems apparent to me that if you vote for Liberal aligned candidates you are voting for big business decisions and if you vote for Labor aligned candidates (you could include the Greens here too) you are voting for people decisions. The last decade of Liberal government contrasted to the first few weeks of Labor seem to back up that assertion.

Apart from personal gain, I see very little reason why you would make a business decision over a people decision. Yet it seems to be not only the more common outcome, but one that justifies itself. Surely we can do better than that. The last half century plus of business decisions have left us in a pretty wretched state.

I think it’s time we stop allowing “it’s just business” to be a cloak for bad, selfish and capricious decisions to hide behind. What’s in the best interests of profit should come far, far behind what is in the interest of the people affected by the decision. And to that point, we need to level up, people and profits are not mutually exclusive and we need to work harder, think harder, to make a society where you are rewarded for making many people’s lives better. Where the more people you lift up, the more you are lifted up. I fear we live in a society that does the exact opposite right now.

The more human, reasoned decision by the company who evicted this content creator for violating his NDA may have been to have him store his recording devices away from the facility and issue a public apology. This would show compassion while still enforcing the agreement. I understand that they legally did exactly what they should have, but for a company that has for years been making business decisions that have directly harmed people, this was another squandered, and very public, opportunity to make a decision based on people, on the passionate supporters and champions of their product.

In the end though, they yet again decided that it’s just business.

I’ll finish off with another Boston Legal clip, because I can only dream of being able to craft words in such a powerful and moving way and it articulates my feelings better than I ever could. It is a clip about Euthanasia. But it shows clearly how although the law says one thing, the moral, decent and human thing to do is quite another.


References:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6ovp-KjK24

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2020/06/10/ceos-are-making-millions-while-laying-off-thousands-of-workers-and-filing-for-bankruptcy/?sh=390491a853f3